UNDER THE RADAR
Tucson Student Activists Shut Down School Board Meeting
A group of high school students in Tucson, Arizona took direct action to prevent their local school board from voting to downgrade, and potentially eliminate, Mexican-American studies courses. With 150 protesters outside and an additional 100 supporters inside the building, a group of students stormed the stage before the meeting was set to begin and chained themselves to the speakers’ chairs. The students led the crowd, chanting, “Our education is under attack, what do we do? Fight back,” until the meeting was finally cancelled.
Last year, Arizona outlawed any courses that promote the overthrow of the government, are “designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group,” or “advocate ethnic solidarity.” The bill’s main target was Tucson’s Mexican-American studies program, which the state superintendent promptly declared in violation of the law. He has since threatened to defund the district if it does not comply. While the local school system claims the program must be cut for budgetary reasons, the students clearly put their struggle in the context of the state’s anti-immigrant legislation—which they have reframed as also “anti-indigenous.”
Among the students’ ten demands are: no school closures, the expansion of ethnic studies, local control over education, and the immediate removal from power of some of the state’s leading politicians, including Governor Jan Brewer.
Ninety Thousand Workers Strike in Botswana, Africa’s “Model of Stability”
The mineral-rich Southern African country of Botswana was brought to a standstill by a public sector strike. The strike is the largest challenge to the pro-Western Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) that has held power since 1966. The BDP has cultivated the image of the small country as a “model of stability,” using its vast diamond deposits to ensure steady economic growth. But tensions immediately rose after the government froze public sector wages at the start of the global economic crisis.
Now ninety thousand workers are on strike, demanding a 16 percent raise. The country’s economy grew by 7.2 percent last year, but the government claims that the budget deficit prevents significant raises. Opposition parties have joined the labor protests and called for Botswana to replicate the North African uprisings that overthrew longstanding governments in early 2011.
New Global Alliance Takes New Tact against Anti-Union Stalwart
Alliance@IBM/CWA Local 1701, an IBM employee organization, has joined forces with several international unions to create the Global Union Alliance, which aims to “strengthen cooperation and implement joint action, with a view to engaging IBM in dialogue at the global level and increasing union membership at IBM.” Using intimidation, firings, and plant closures, the blue-chip technology firm has long stymied unionization attempts and reduced its U.S. workforce by fifteen thousand in recent years by outsourcing to China and India. Seemingly unable to stop this trend on a nation-by-nation basis, the global alliance has endeavored to give IBM headaches wherever it goes. It announced its first day of international coordinated action for June 14, 2011, the company’s one hundredth anniversary. IBM workers will be wearing black and blue to bring attention to job cuts and declining work conditions.
California Governor Vetoes Farm Workers Bill
California Governor Jerry Brown has vetoed Senate Bill 104, which passed both houses of the state legislature. The proposed bill allowed farm workers to vote in union elections by sending in petition cards from home. More than 260 farm workers were present during the legislative vote, which took place on the third anniversary of the death of farm worker Maria Isabel Vazquez Jimenez, who died from heat exhaustion in the fields. According to the United Farm Workers, the passage of this law would have made it harder for employers to intimidate workers during union votes.
Wal-Mart to Be Unionized? Maybe in South Africa
A ruling from the South African Competition Commission has told Wal-Mart that its longdesired acquisition of Massmart can go through, provided it recognizes existing labor agreements for three years. Massmart, a big-box store with a dominant position in the South African retail market, is already unionized by the South Africa Commercial, Catering, and Allied Workers Union (SACCAWU).
SACCAWU won the reinstatement of 503 workers who were fired in anticipation of the deal, but many consider the government’s ruling a net loss for labor. The acquisition would be Wal-Mart’s first entry onto the African continent.
The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) has threatened mass action should the merger go through. With its global distribution chains and vehement anti-labor policies, COSATU claims Wal-Mart threatens to undercut both labor and local producers. Members and staff of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union attended the hearings, rallying with South African trade unionists who demonstrated outside and sang freedom songs from the anti-apartheid era.
Liberal Seattle Faces Federal Investigation for Police Brutality Incidents
The Justice Department has opened a formal civil rights investigation into the Seattle Police Department’s use of force and treatment of people of color after a spate of high-profile brutality incidents. In April 2010, a Seattle police officer was caught on tape stomping on the head of an unarmed Mexican-American man, while yelling racist obscenities. A few months later, Officer Ian Birk took the life of John Williams, a Native-American woodcarver, with four shots in his side and his back. Birk says he had seen Williams crossing the street carrying a folding knife and piece of wood, which he did not drop when ordered. A series of other incidents have been caught on video, but in nearly every case the offending officer has been reassigned or simply let go. After the Justice Department requested that Seattle residents call, e-mail, or take part in an interview about their experiences, several dozen stepped forward in the first few weeks to be interviewed.
Teachers in Oaxaca Striking Again
Responding to inadequate school funding, seventy thousand members of the local teachers’ union in rebellious Oaxaca, one of Mexico’s poorest states, walked off the job and marched through the capital. While U.S. teachers have been trying to defend their collective bargaining rights, job security, and hard-earned benefit agreements, the Oaxacan teachers have other goals in mind. Teachers want better uniform allowances for students, computers in all elementary schools, and for the government to pay for the schools’ electricity (according to the union, parents currently pay the utility bills). In addition, they are condemning the government for its feeble investigation into the disappearance of teacher-activist Carlos René Román Salazar.